Background: Adverse reactions associated with penicillin-type antibiotics are common in pediatric practice, leading to the subsequent unnecessary use of alternative antibiotics. IgE-mediated penicillin allergy represents only a fraction of these adverse reactions.
Objectives: To examine (1) the trend of penicillin skin test reactivity during a recent 10-year interval, (2) the relative distribution of specific reagents related to a positive skin test result, and (3) skin test reactivity as a function of reaction history.
Methods: Penicillin testing using 3 reagents--benzylpenicilloyl polylysine, penicillin G, and sodium penicilloate (penicillin A)--was conducted in a prospective study of 359 consecutive patients referred to an outpatient pediatric allergy clinic between January 1, 1993, and May 31, 2003. We also retrospectively reviewed penicillin skin test results for 562 children previously tested between January 1, 1979, and December 31, 1992.
Results: Between 1993 and 2003, the prevalence of penicillin skin test sensitivity markedly declined. Of all the positive skin test results between 1979 and 2002, either penicillin G or sodium penicilloate or both identified 34%, with sodium penicilloate alone responsible for 8.5%. The rate of positive skin test reactions was not significantly different between patients with vs without a history of suggestive IgE-mediated reactions.
Conclusions: A marked decline in penicillin skin test sensitivity in the pediatric age group is identified. The minor determinant reagents penicillin G and sodium penicilloate are both necessary for determining potential penicillin allergy. Relating history alone to potential penicillin sensitivity is unreliable in predicting the presence or absence of a positive skin test result.